Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rio+20, an explanation of some key points

Most of us from the [earth] team spent yesterday recovering from a six hour-long action at the RioCentro that included a People’s Plenary and walkout. There is a lot to be said about that process of protest, catharsis, and democracy in its rawest form, but I’ll leave it to someone else. For some reason I’m still itching to talk policy.
We ripped up the final document yesterday. With any kind of long-term vision, it’s obvious the outcome falls far short of the change we need. But initially even delegates and their governments were expecting Rio+20 to be a failure. So it came as a surprise to everyone when negotiators were able to make some tough compromises and come out with a trickle of progress. People put a lot of praise on the Brazilian presidency and their chairing of the negotiations. Here’s a breakdown of what was on the table and how it turned out, the successes and the complete failures:
Sustainable Consumption and Production. At the 19th Commission on Sustainable Development last year in New York, the world’s delegations finished negotiating a 10-Year Framework on SCP, but because the conference was unable to come to agreement on the other issues, which included waste, chemicals, and others, the Framework couldn’t be officially adopted. At Rio the U.S. played the elephant in the room for a while and refused to accept any outright inclusion of SCP in the text, but they eventually caved. The Framework was accepted. The American way of life is officially up for debate.
Rights. As someone on the inside told us, some of the text turned out to be Rio-1, Rio+1 or Rio+2, but some of it is, in fact, Rio+20. His example was the recognition of rights to food and water, as well as those of indigenous people, all in one document. Some of the hottest anger during the conference boiled when these rights were in danger, and some of it is still simmering at the absence of any reference to reproductive rights in the section on women.
UNEP. There was a recognition coming in that in order to give all three pillars of sustainable development (social, economic, environmental) an equal say in the international system, the status and power of the United Nations Environmental Program would have to be elevated. Many expected it would be made a specialized agency, which would mean putting it on the same level as the WTO and ILO, and that a name change to United Nations Environmental Organization was in order. The final document doesn’t go that far, but UNEP will get universal membership in its governing body, greater financing, and a strengthened hand in coordination within the UN system.
High Commissioner for Future Generations. Originally in the text was a proposition for a High Commissioner or Ombudsperson within the UN system who would be responsible for assessing the long-term impacts of current policies and advocating on behalf of future generations. There’s no reference to such a person in the final document, but the Secretary General is invited to make a report on “the need for promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development, taking into account the needs of future generations.”
The Future of the CSD. One of the major outcomes of the original Rio summit in 1992 was the creation of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which has met every year since. The Rio+20 document brings that era to a close. It will be replaced by an as yet unnamed high level political forum which will have the same mission as the CSD but be more action-oriented, have a larger role in bringing UN and other international multi-stakeholder groups to the table and ensuring coordination and cooperation between them, and produce a sustainable development report.
Fossil fuel subsidies. There was hope Rio+20 would herald a call to all nations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and start using that money to promote renewable energy. No such luck. The language on the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies is really weak.
Means of Implementation. The G-77 got pissed about the pace of MOI negotiations. At one point the bloc refused to show up to Green Economy talks because there was no progress on MOI. They said did not see the point of discussing the what when there was no attention give to the how. The end result still isn’t very good, and it may actually backtrack from the original Rio summit on the issue of technology transfer to developing countries.
Rio Principles. It was downright sad to see developed countries removing left and right references to the Rio Principles, which come from the 1992 summit and lay out in clear, concise language the principles on which sustainable development should be based. The most contentious debate was on common but differentiated responsibility (CBRD). The United States never liked the principle and now sees it as a way for emerging countries like China to point their finger at the developed world while shirking the burden their own economies are placing on the environment. Developing nations, however, are adamant that the countries putting the most pressure on the global environment should bear the biggest responsibility for changing their behavior and contributing to efforts to fix the problem.
Green Economy. The green economy has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some felt Europe was pushing a type of green neo-colonialism on the developing world in order to stimulate the economies of its member states. However, because of its inability to hold a strong common position or put money on the table, the EU failed to radically change the way the world economy will be structured. The end result encourages all countries to find their own ways to a green economy through a few a basic principles like poverty eradication, and encourages international partnerships and funding.
SDGs. Many have hoped for bold sustainable development goals that will replace the MDGs when they finish in 2015. These would apply to both developed and developing countries, focusing on sustainability and not just development. The outcome document, while failing to identify thematic areas for the goals, sets up a process for their creation.
Was Rio+20 a success or a failure? Civil society judged it the latter two days ago. As far as the historians go, a lot will depend of their narratives of the conference will depend what happens next. Now that the summit is over, how hard will governments push for new visions of development? What changes get implemented, which get swept aside, and what new ones are dreamed up? And how long will it be before humankind’s impacts on the planet become too obvious to ignore and the inequality within it becomes too much to bear?
Here’s to world that doesn’t need a Rio+40. Cheers.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Urgency and Emergency: A conversation with a Rio+20 delegate

The shuttle to the UN conference center only stops in front of the major hotels, where the important country delegates are staying.  Hot air rises to upper-income accommodation.  After the walk or taxi ride to the nearest hotel, it’s another hour by bus to get to the convention center.  Most days I think that time will probably be occupied by sleep, but today I happened to sit next to a country delegate from a small island nation.

After a little exchange he asked with what the youth perspective was on the conference.  I said unfortunately it wasn’t going to be like the transformative outcome we had from the original summit in 1992.  A lot of civil society expected the negotiation to be a complete failure so if there was some sort of major agreement it would bring a lot of excitement. In turn he explained the context was different this time around.  In 1992, the Soviet Union had just fallen, the economy was okay, and there was bounty of goodwill between nations and shared hope for a more united, progressive future.  This time it’s different: the EU is on the rocks, the US is eking out a recovery, and developing countries are more than willing to assert their power on the world stage.  There is always urgency at environmental negotiations, but if there is an emergency – as most youth at the conference believe – is up for debate between nation-states.    

Nobody is going to say no to the green economy, he pointed out, even if no one is really sure exactly what a “green economy” is, or what it would mean.  For the poor countries, it means development, and for the developed countries it’s a way to kickstart growth in their struggling economies.  His country is prepared to agree on a vague concept with the knowledge that it will be fleshed out by the UN later on.

The two of us began to move beyond the text.  He said, people would be surprised when you talk to a delegate one-on-one, like we were doing on the bus, how open they are about what needs to be done to reach international cooperation on a better future for all.  But when they’re representing their country on the floor they push the process in every way they can to exploit the peculiar agenda of their country.  That is the way international negotiations work.

To flesh out his point a little more he spoke about his time a diplomat as his country’s mission in New York.   When he was in that city he was amazed at how a person gets ripped off at every corner, nickel-and-dimed.  When he visited Washington D.C. once, they told him the museums were free, and he made them repeat this four times to be sure he understood.   Because in New York he had to pay for everything.  It was also in New York he saw a battery powered car that was built in 1914 when he was invited to visit the Rockefeller’s mansion.  The technology was never pursued further because oil was so cheap and corporations like the Rockefellers were making a lot of money from its sale and distribution on a massive scale.  But this is how negotiations between countries work, pushing hard for each and every one of your negotiating points and get every concession you can from your fellow countries.   And often the power and money is concentrated in the hands of a few and they guard it fiercely. 

The nickel-and-diming and the hoarding, the costs and the calculations, the history and the hope.  It may be worth staying awake on that bus ride.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The house is smaller than it looks: some background on Rio+20

       In less than a month Rio+20 will begin.  Government delegations from nearly every country in the world will arrive in the RioCentro put on their translation headsets and try to find common ground on the future of humankind’s place in the environment.  Thousands of people will flood the streets for the People’s Summit  –  which promises to foster an alternative, bottom-up vision of sustainable development – and a myriad other meetings that will take place alongside the main event.  A village erected in the city will host a caucus of indigenous peoples flying in from around the world.  Business and civil society groups – from multinational corporations to mom-and-pop NGOs –  will jockey to make their voices heard.  Young people will tweet, blog, and lobby.  Some will likely be thrown out of the official negotiations for making more ruckus than the government ministers can handle.  Thousands and thousands of people will descend upon Rio de Janeiro to negotiate, exchange ideas, discuss in back rooms, document, criticize, promote, and scream for and against sustainable development.
       A lot of what will be said won’t be understood.  Even by the people like myself in Rio.  Even by the people who are doing the talking.  A lot of what will be said will amount to nothing.  At this type of UN conference, acceptance of the final outcome document is by consensus – that means every country, all 180 some of them, has to eventually agree on every part in order for it to go into effect.  And even then this is international soft law, which means that how much is enforced is determined by each individual country and the pressure put on them by the international community.  No wars will be fought and no one will be arrested if a nation doesn’t live up to their promise on renewable energy. 
       But as a rule of thumb in international affairs: most international law is followed most of the time.   The Millennium Development Goals are international soft law and their creation has set concrete targets for improving people’s lives –like reducing by half the number of people without access to sanitation – and have set the rules for the allocation of billions of dollars.  And many of the Goals, which expire in 2015, will be met.  But because the negotiations at Rio+20 are grappling with this kind of international law – and because sustainable development means a lot of things to a lot of people –much of the arguments in the official negotiations will be about really obscure language and may sound vague even after being interpreted by reporters in the world’s newspapers.  A little background on the history of the negotiations that have led up to Rio+20, and on the evolution of the idea of sustainable development, are necessary to understand how the outcome of the next weeks will shape our world over the coming decades.
      Environmental and developmental concerns are likely as old as the human conceptions of “environment” and “progress”.  But in the 60’s after WWII mass production patterns had been applied to peacetime consumption and the population exploded worldwide – including in countries that were nowhere near equipped to handle millions of new souls – people in nations around the world began to realize this time this was different: humanity was pressing down upon the world with a heaviness never before seen, and not just in one place but everywhere.  Several important papers, including The Limits of Growth, were published on the topic.  And in 1972, The United Nations Conference on the Environment was convened in Stockholm. 
    That meeting was the first time nations from every corner of the world came together to talk about how best to develop socially and economically in order to benefit their people and what that meant in the context of the environment.  And it was there that developed countries and developing countries first hashed out one of the central themes of the sustainable development debate that holds to this day: developed countries’ concern is with overshooting the earth’s carrying capacity (including through the impact of overpopulation and shoddy industry in developing countries) and developing countries’ concerns are with neo-colonialism (including worries about developed countries overexploiting and over-polluting and stunting the developing world’s growth in the name of sustainable development).
       Fifteen years later the United Nations tasked a special commission with reviewing the state of development and environment.  The final result of the commission, known as the Brundlandt Report after the its chairman, provides the most commonly cited definition of sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.   It also added a social element to its conception.  A nation needs not just to protect its environment and provide materially for its people to be sustainable but it also must enable them to have a say in their society and control their own destiny.  A dictatorship does not beget sustainability.  Thus the Brundtland Report laid out the three pillars on which sustainable development rests: economic, environmental and social, each of which sometimes threatens to overcome the others but all of which must be respected and taken into account.  The Report, published in 1987, also paved the way for the Earth Summit to take place in 1992– the biggest summit yet on sustainable development and a one of a kind conference in history. 
       Rio de Janeiro was chosen as the host city for the summit.  At that point the city was much less prosperous and secure than it is today.  A Brazilian man I met here said they had tanks patrolling the streets as a precautionary measure and that all the organized crime headed south out of the city for the conference.  It was supposed to be big deal – all the world’s nations coming together to produce a joint statement about the relationship of civilization to the environment – but none of the delegations could really have predicted the direction it would take.  One delegate suggested at the outset that the result should be a document every child should be able to understand and hang over their bed.  The debate quickly became more complex than that, thanks largely to a strong and unified negotiating block of developing countries – the G-77 – which refused to let their concerns be pushed aside.  The negotiating document grew from a symbolic declaration about the importance of the environment to human society to include complex and important issues of equity and responsibility between and within states.  As a developing country representative said at one point, “our kids won’t have a bed over which to hang a poetic Earth charter if we don’t eradicate poverty also.”  The debates went long into the nights and the questions raised were at least as important as the outcomes.  Are environmental concerns just a disguise for a new trade barriers?  Is there a “right to development,” and if so, what are the constraints on it?  Does sustainable development require a fundamental restructuring of global North-South relations?
    The results of the Summit included the creation of three new UN commissions, each of which has brought together the worlds’ governments to discuss rights and responsibilities every year since 1992.  These are the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (which created the Kyoto Protocol and has held most of the intergovernmental debates about climate change and man’s role in it).  In addition it produced two documents: The Rio Declaration and Agenda 21.  The former consists of 27 principles, all of which seem matter of fact and universally agreeable at first glance but in fact were the result of furious negotiation.  An example is Principle 8, “To achieve sustainable development and achieve a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.”  Developed countries wanted to include something about the need to put a check on uncontrolled population growth, which they worried was getting out of hand in Africa and Asia.  Developing countries, though, were adamant that the blame for depletion of the world’s resources should fall not on the masses of poor people in their own countries but on the overproduction and overconsumption – the cars, the malls, the clothes – of the developed world, which did and still does use up a far greater share of water, trees, and oil than is sustainable.  Some developed countries vehemently resisted the idea that they might have to change their living patterns.  As the first President Bush said at the time, “The American way of life is not up for debate.”  In the end both sides agreed to both make one principle that would include both proposals.  The final result reflected this series of compromises.  According to one ambassador, Tommy Koh,“form a very delicate balance as a package deal, and any attempt to amend any part of the declaration could unravel the whole package.”
       The first time I stumbled across the Agenda 21 – before I’d even heard of sustainable development – it was in a book about a New World Order that was being secretly schemed and would soon bring about a world government similar to the Illuminati or the Freemasons dominating national authorities and usurping sovereignty at all levels.  It kept referring to an insidious plan, apparently dreamed in a back-room, called Agenda 21, and it was chock full of details about how the take-over would take place.  To be fair to the conspiracy theorists, Agenda 21 is 700 pages long and sounds like it could be a Soviet directive.  The delegates could have picked a better name.  But its focus was on strengthening international cooperation for the purposes of combating deforestation and desertification, conserving biological diversity, and protecting and managing the oceans.  And again its implementation is voluntary and depends on each country enforcing it within its own borders.
       The Earth Summit, also known as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), brought together more heads of state and government, diplomats, and UN representatives than any other conference before it.  It also brought together a diverse and vibrant set of civil society and NGO groups to talk about sustainable development issues – and all this in age before internet and cell phones.  I talked to a woman, Thais Corral, who coordinated the Women’s tent of activities and speakers during the conference and she said, “You contacted people and made a schedule, but in the end you just hoped they showed up at the right time – which they did – because there was no way to reach them otherwise.”  Inside and outside the negotiations, the agenda and the means of taking action on sustainable development for the next twenty years took shape: shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production, share the technology that will help states develop efficiently and effectively, eliminate poverty, and create international norms that will prevent pollution and environmental degradation.   And since that time the general consensus seems to be that we’ve made a lot of progress, but the human world is still overburdening the nonhuman one.  If things don’t shift, the Earth may be a sorry place to live a century from now.  And so twenty years after the Earth Summit, in 2012, amidst economic turmoil in North America and Europe, emerging countries in the developing world beginning to exert their force on the world stage, and the effects of climate change beginning to be felt around the planet, Rio+20 convenes.  The world awaits the results.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A little on favelas

A favela?

      What is a favela and how does it function?  Like one of those giant pieces of art made out of skittles or shoes or bicycle parts, the image seems clearer the further you are from it and breaks up when you look closer.  A common definition would say favela is the Brazilian word for slum.  And that's not wrong.  A slightly more technical one would mention the role rural-urban migration and the lack of formal financing and property rights play in shaping a favela.  When I'm on the bus and I see a hillside of brick and concrete houses zig-zagging their way down a hillside, some wedged into the most improbable slopes or valleys, the favela label seems obvious.  (I often wondered how the houses halfway up the hilll, with no access to the road besides a steep, narrow staircase were even built.  Then one day I saw men carrying bags of cement and armfuls of bricks down the stairs to construct another floor on one of those houses.)  But these same red brick and concrete houses, some of which are plastered and painted bright colors while others are left bare brick, lined the streets next to the apartment complex where I was staying on the outskirts of Salvador and it was hard to think of them as anything but houses.  And some of them weren't houses of course -- there were grocery stores, churches, and bars.  Men in shirts and ties and women in heels would wait at the dirt lot for buses that would take them to their jobs downtown.
        I take heart that in a paper I read about the ways of understanding a favela, the authors conclude early on that there are no good standards or criteria for defining one.  The collection of urban places that are lumped into the category have different histories, racial compositions, and economic ties to the city. A favela can be seen as a reservoir of people waiting their turn to enter the city's formal sector as unskilled workers, as a group of squatters breaking the city's social contract, as a breeding ground for illicit activity and a blindspot to laws and law enforcement, or a mosaic featuring the combination of people's creative ability to overcome flaws in urban planning.
        Varying degrees of each may be present in different favelas.  As with any place, there is likely a lot of variation.  Not every block of the South Bronx is gang territory and not everyone who lives in Orange County is superrich.  I'm left with lots of question.  The people who pick through the trash with dignity, sometimes a mother and child team, where do they live?  Next to the people in suits waiting for the bus to go downtown?  Or somewhere else?  How do they get water and sanitation services into such spontaneous neighborhoods?  And how long is it after a favela's construction before the city government even recognizes it exists?  Do the neighborhoods have any voice in politics?  Or do they only get any attention as charity or when they get of control, like when the government recently sent in the military police to take control of some favelas in Rio?  I tried to ask every person who sold me peanuts on the bus, or sodas in the front of the mall, or the delicious bean-fritter concotion called acaraje, how long they'd lived in Salvador, thinking they must be recent immigrants to have simple jobs like this in the informal sector selling snacks.  But almost every one one of them had lived in the city for more than twenty years.  How long will it be before all the favela residents find their places in the clean, modern, symmetrical apartments?  Will that ever happen and would it be a good thing?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The phenomenon of language: some ponderings on Brazilian Portuguese

Language fascinates me.  We can explore tiny subtlities of syllable count in poetry and play with rhymes and puns.  And we can step back and stare at it as a meta-discussion on society, fraught with social tensions and the impacts of migration.  Struggling to get by for three months in a country whose language I'm still learning has made it painfully clear how essential fluency is to a meaningul conversation.  It's also presented the opportunity to realize some cool linguistic phenomena.

Some things in this world are so incredible we give them really obvious names, but those names vary from language to language.  At least that was my first thought. Sunflower is girasol, sun-turner.  Hummingbird is beijaflor, flower-kisser. But then neither language calls a giraffe a "longneck".  And, really, all words have their beginnings in literal descriptions ("science" comes from scire, to know), some have just gotten lost.  Why are some meanings so still so obvious? Maybe it's because Portuguese and English, which are European languages, came into contact with these creatures relatively recently, when the languages were already quite similar to how they are today -- hummingbirds and sunflowers are only found in the New World.  I'm not sure about jellyfish, which is aguaviva, living water

Quite a few Portuguese words are similar to English words that are used only in formal contexts or to describe something abstract like behavior or ideas.  IncĂȘndio is a literal fire, but an "incendiary comment" is just one that tries to rile people up.  Pensamento is the word for a thought and in English you might describe someone's mood as "pensive".  You'd think since the guy hosting me is a member of the Brazilian Communist Party and designs propaganda for a living, he'd be putting Che's face on banners.  But nope, the word is Portuguese for "adverstisement" and his are for mineral water. 

After hearing slang over and over again you kinda get the idea what it means, but it doesn't hurt to have it explained.  Sometimes the literal translation is pretty divorced from the usage.  Like how New Englanders use the word "wicked".  Porra is used constantly by college students much the same way "shit" is used in the U.S. -- sometimes as a good thing, but most times used to express frustration.  The first time I asked what it meant the people laughed for a while and had a good ol' time taking shots at explaining it.  Finally someone said, it's like mingal.  I still haven't tried mingal yet, but someone had told me earlier that it was a local speciality of sugar cane juice, manioc flour, and conconut milk.  Now, what kind of noun would make a good exclamation and resemble a frothy white liq... oh, got it guys, thanks.  I'm not sure rapaz, which literally means young man or lad, has a translation in English.  People say it as a drawn out expression of pondering -- "How much do you think you spent?" "Ra-paaaaz." It certainly doesn't make sense literally, "Young mannnnnn."

When a song comes on, people tell me it's such-and-such type of music, but because they're all so different I can't really tell what features make up any one.  The only common strand I can see in forro is that there is always an accordion.  The bizarre thing is that the word "forro" comes from the word for railroad "estrado de ferro (road of iron)" and the music is somehow derived from the folk music the Americans who built the first railroads in Brazil brought over.  Really, accordion is the American gift to the Brazilian music?  

I've heard a number of borrowed English words, a lot of them for modern things that got their start in the United States.  In Italy people pronounced these words the way they're pronounced in America.  But in Brazil, because English isn't as widespread (and because the words sound funny prounced phonetically like Brazilian Portuguese and Brazilians have fun with their language) they're given new pronuncations:

Some of the English words I've heard:

Crack (prounouced cuh-rack-ee) -- the drug
Face (fay-cee) -- how Brazilians refer to Facebook
Site (sai-chee) -- like an internet site
Big Brother Brasil (Big-ee Buh-rother Brasil) -- the TV show, way more popular here than in the U.S.  You have to say it like an over-caffeinated television announcer.
Rap (Hap-ee) -- the music genre
Rock (Hock-ee) -- when I first heard someone say this I was having a conversation about music and all of a sudden I thought I was being asked about an ice-sport.

A completely random linguistic coincidence:

Turkey (the bird with the same name as a country) is peru in Portuguese, which also happens to be the name of a country. 


Friday, March 16, 2012

Sustainable Development and Dona Joana

Themes of community organizing in the shape of the machine street vendors use to turn  a  reed of sugar cane into a delicious drink called caldo da cana.  The two circles with tape rolls in the center are the cogs of the machine and represent what organizers bring to the process (critical analysis, compromise).  The line in the middle represents the bases organizers and a community need for any project (ethics, motivation).  And at the bottom is the drink -- the nourishment (collective action, admiration, social responsibility).  
The discussion, one of many, while we were at the little house on Itaparica.

  Since the end of February I’ve been in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, on the northeastern coast of Brazil.  I’m taking part in a project with the federal university of Bahia – uffy-bah as its known, the pronunciation of the acronym for Universidade Federal da Bahia.  The project, Programa Marsol, brings together students from various disciplines to work with clam and oyster harvesters in the rural communities near Salvador on some aspect of their lives and livelihoods.  Some of the administration majors are will interview people about their strategies for getting the shellfish to market and see if they can increase efficiency and develop new strategies.  The geography studnets are designing maps that, in addition to being graphic representations of the area, highlight the cultural and ecological significance of places.  Others are measuring water-quality indicators and seeing how much pollution the filter-feeding clams retain in their tissues.   
My group is trying to gather information about the types of accidents that take place while clam digging (snake bites, cuts, sprained ankles) and looking at the correlation between the age-structure of the harvest and the method used.  Does using a machete to cut the mud bring up a larger number of big clams or small ones? What about the type of trowel, does that matter?  The goal is to find the method that pulls out the big clams and leaves the immature ones to grow and reproduce – ensuring the sustainability of future harvests.   
To provide a background of theory and communication skills for the field experiences, we spent four days at the beginning of the month in a little house on the island of Itaparica, near Salvador, reading papers about sustainable development and non-violent communication and watching films about indigenous and quilombo communities.  Amidst the rapid fire discussions of Paulo Freire and debates about the connection between cultural and natural patrimony, one oration stood out.  This was partly because the woman was speaking slowly and articulating clearly, but also because her words struck an important chord.
She was concerned about how our discussion of sustainable development had gotten mired down in economics -- the conversation was focusing exclusively on the “overexploitation of resources” and “transitioning to more sustainable methods of consumption and production.”  She told the story of Dona Joana, one of the leaders of a quilombo community.  Quilombos were formed by escaped slaves and their descendants continue to live in the small, isolated villages and often have cultures quite different from other towns and cities. 
In the hope of sharing the struggles of her community and communicating with other people, Dona Joana met with different groups: negros, women, youth.  But the agenda of the negros was concerned with the more “typical” black Brazilian and weren’t sure how to engage with her.  The women too had a specific goals for progress aimed at the larger society that couldn’t accommodate her.  And as a middle-aged woman Dona Joana had accumulated too many years too mesh with the youth.  While their struggles were ultimately the same, the visions the larger groups were to narrow for a quilombola woman to fit in.  The message of the woman who told the story was that we can’t obsess with the economics and politics of sustainable development while overlooking the social and philosophical elements of it and that we can’t afford to leave anyone out of the struggle. 


The question of inclusiveness is one I go back and forth on.  The elephant in the sustainable development room is that if the level of consumption in Europe and North America  stays the same, the developing world catches up, and we keep treating the ecological services the Earth provides as a given, the world will be a sorry place to live a hundred years from now.  Shit's gonna hit the fan if we keep treating the economy like a game of pac-man where there will always be more food to eat, we don’t have to worry about our poop, and all we have to do is steer clear of the specters of economic recession. We need to change. On a massive scale.  Fast.  And so I often get frustrated with the people who want to talk about the economies of "non-capitalist traditional societies" and creating a sustainable world one eco- village at a time. The majority of the social-ladder climbing population is not going to buy into this, I want to say, and besides, we need bigger changes, faster. 
But there’s more to the sustainable development room than the consumption elephant.  Policy wonks, myself included, often get hung up on "internalizing the externalities” and incorporating “the polluter-pays principle” at the expense of traditional culture and small-scale innovation.  We miss out on the philosophical questions and exchanges of human and natural creativity in our search for policy solutions in the political and economic realms.
Last weekend we went out to the communities to meet with some of the clam and oyster harvesters.  Most of the two days were consumed with meetings.  I sat with a group in school desks that had been pulled into a judo studio not far from the estuary that fronts the town going back and forth in discussions for hours.  After the last meeting on the second day, we had lunch, then drove down a mix of paved and dirt roads to where another part of our group had just finished up.  We sat down in a room with white flags dangling from the ceiling and pictures of saints hanging on the walls next to women in colorful skirts.  Soon a few men came out and began beating out polyrhythms on some drums and a bell and the women, most of whom were in their 60’s, began dancing a crazy samba.  Everyone except me seemed to know all the songs and the dance went on for nearly two hours, the women’s feet moving furiously. Some of the older women who couldn't do all the steps just spun in circles as fast as they could, their gold skirts billowing. One of the younger women had a two year old boy whose face just lit up with excited happiness at all this, his eyes alight with wonder as he tried to do the dance -- kicking his little legs and nearly falling over.
I learned later that the space was used for candomble ceremonies -- the syncretic combination of Catholicism and animist religions slaves brought over.  The pictures were of saints, but they represented orixas -- African deities of nature like wind and water. The music, dance, and religion are the legacy of people who have struggled to preserve their culture in a changing environment. Within them are stories of overcoming oppression and lessons for survival in a land of danger and beauty. And there are arts and stories and faiths from East Asia to middle-America that tell the same warnings and bestow the same hope.
Somehow we have to make room for them, and Dona Joana, in our institutional blueprints and roadmaps for a green economy, in our politics and in our narratives.  While it's imperative we develop an international framework that will tame the beast of consumption, we have to make folk music and village councils part of our vision, along with new efforts at forming sustainable communities like eco-villages and co-ops. We have to include these histories and traditions and new-fangled innovations in the story of the future we want.  Any notion of sustainability is hollow without them.